Real Estate

Do real estate agents provide an essential service?

9.5 million jobs in the real estate, rental and leasing industry hang in the balance

[Article updated March 28 to include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s update to its list of essential services during the coronavirus. It now includes residential real estate.]

The real estate industry not only helps provide homes for millions of Americans, but it also creates millions of job opportunities, making the industry a massive driver of the U.S. economy. But with more state and local governments implementing stay-at-home orders, real estate agents are having to redefine how they do business, as they find ways to meet with clients and also maintain the health and safety of all parties involved. 

The latest reports show that at least 212 million people in 22 states, 64 counties, 16 cities and one territory are being urged to stay home. The challenges that arise from all these orders is that each place has a different list of requirements for what a stay-in-place order entails, leaving real estate agents, along with many others (go here for information on notaries, homebuilders and appraisers), to figure out which rules apply to them. 

At the time of publishing, the National Association of Realtors, which is America’s largest trade association representing 1.4 million members, said that the following states have deemed “real estate” to be an essential service, business or operation pursuant to the state’s executive orders: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

“Everyone’s goal is the same right now – to protect the health and wellbeing of our citizens. We must also preserve and defend the fabric of our communities and the critical infrastructure that supports us all,” NAR President Vince Malta said. “NAR is working with state Realtor associations to ensure certain real estate services are deemed ‘essential’ in emergency declarations in order to protect property owners and ensure future economic recovery can occur.” 

“It is important that all services involved in facilitating a real estate transaction remain functional during these unprecedented times; including mortgage, title, insurance, appraisal and government recorder services,” he added. 

On March 28, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency updated its list of essential services during the coronavirus to include residential real estate.

However, as the California Association of Realtors stated, “If a city or county has an order with a more restrictive standard regarding what qualifies as an essential service, or more restrictions on activities, those guidelines will still govern the activities of a licensee.” Many other associations and groups are releasing similar statements, urging members to ask their local county and city governments for guidance.

According to NAR, there are 9.5 million jobs in the real estate, rental and leasing industry, and every two home sales generate one job in this country. 

With this much influence on the U.S. economy, NAR emphasized that housing has been and will continue to be a critical component of the American economy and will be a critical driver of our national recovery.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 coincided with the spring home-buying season, which arrived earlier than its traditional post-Super Bowl debut this year. Now that it’s officially spring, the forecast for what should be the hottest part of home-buying season looks drastically different. 

In the Mortgage Bankers Association’s most recent mortgage applications report, Joel Kan, MBA’s vice president of economic and industry forecasting, warned that potential homebuyers might hold off on purchasing homes until there is a slowdown in the spread of the coronavirus and more clarity on the economic outlook.

There will still be people looking to buy homes this spring even with the growing concerns around the coronavirus, as job and life changes require people to relocate. 

“Each March, around 400,000 to 460,000 homes across the U.S. would be in pending status,” Malta said. “Without designating real estate services as an essential service, Americans currently caught in the middle of a transaction would have no clear path on what happens with their pending legal contracts, financial commitments or – most importantly – where they will be sheltering.”

For the real estate agents who do have to show houses, NAR created a guide to help address some of the common transactional issues they are hearing about. The association strongly encourages all real estate agents to take necessary precautions to ensure their safety and the safety of those around them. 

Many in the industry are also looking at alternative ways to conduct business, with real estate agents switching to electronic forms of marketing properties and communicating with clients. 

According to a recent report from Redfin, they witnessed a 494% increase in requests for agent-led video home tours last week alone. As of Sunday, 18.9% of tour requests from were video-chat tour requests, which was up from 0.2% at the beginning of March, a 94-fold increase, the company said.

While the industry is facing a lot of challenges right now, Dustin Brohm, a HousingWire columnist, national speaker and real estate marketing and lead generation coach, offered some encouragement to real estate agents, urging them to use this time to focus on how they can improve. 

“I can’t think of a better time in the last decade for agents to really put their foot on the gas with the marketing. Take a second to make sure you’re spending money on things that are actually worthwhile, and cut any expenses that aren’t so you can focus those dollars on really making an impact,” Brohm said. “This is such an opportunity to grow your online presence while so many competitors are pushing pause, playing defense, or stopping altogether. It’s also a perfect time to learn a new skill or marketing strategy, finally launch that podcast or YouTube channel, and reconnect with past clients from a position of helpfulness and caring.”

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